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How to deal with a difficult colleague

By Aimee Greaves



Many of us spend more time at work than in our homes. Yet the colleagues we work alongside are often not the type of people we would choose to spend eight hours a day with.


However, knowing how to deal with your peers is all part of working life - whether they are notoriously argumentative, insist on putting obstacles in your way or just have bad management skills, there are ways to make office life happier.


- Look at yourself: Start by examining yourself. Are you sure the other person is really the problem and that you are not overreacting? Have you always experienced difficulty with the same type of person? Does a pattern exist for you in your interaction with coworkers? Do you recognise that you have buttons that are easily pushed?

Talk to a trusted colleague and find out if they can see a reason why you might not get on with someone. It’s hard to look at yourself and find faults but it will help you in the long run.


- Don’t retaliate: As tempting as it might be to fight back and treat the colleague the same way they are treating you, don’t. Stay professional and, if necessary, avoid dealing with them unless you have to. Also make sure you stick to conversations about work - this way you will not give them any ammunition to create more problems.


Direct confrontation can work well in some situations, but it would be better to go through official channels, such as your HR department.


- Talk to your boss: Find out from your colleagues if you are the only one in the office who finds it hard to talk to this particular person. Rally other employees who might have an issue with them but tread carefully.

“One of the first steps is to acknowledge the issue and talk about it with that person. If you don’t tackle it at the beginning things could escalate,” says Mike Atack, a leadership coach based in Dubai.


Sometimes, a group approach convinces the boss that the impact of the behaviour is wider and deeper than they had originally determined.

“If you have tried to sort the situation out yourself and had no luck, approach your line manager and discuss it with them,” adds Atack.


- Keep on track: There is nothing a difficult colleague wants more than for their victim to fail. Protect the needs of your work and business, but avoid working with the person whenever it is possible. Choose projects they have nothing to do with.

Don’t hurt your career or your business, but avoidance is an option. Prove that your work is not affected by office politics. If all else fails you can ask to be transferred within the company so that you don’t have to work with them again.


Take a Break


Studies have shown that taking a lunch break is good for your

performance at work.


Stepping out of the office and getting some fresh air – even just for a 10-minute stroll – can have a positive influence on concentration levels and, therefore, your performance. Research in Australia carried out by AC Neilson found that one in three people skip lunch at least once a week, which affects concentration levels later in the day. 

Taking up some form of exercise can also make for a better afternoon. Whether it’s nipping to the gym or going out for a run it will give you energy for the rest of the day. Eat a low-fat lunch to avoid that afternoon slump.